Hattie McDaniel

I never knew about Hattie McDaniel until I saw her in Gone With the Wind.  She made history when she won an Oscar for playing Mammy in the Academy award winner for best picture.  She was the first African American to do so.  In her acceptance speech, she said, “I sincerely hope that I shall always be a credit to my race, and to the motion picture industry.”  Well, Ms. McDaniel, you are and will always be a credit to your race because you have opened doors for stars like Sidney Poitier, Whoopi Goldberg, Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Monique and most recently Octavia Spencer.

McDaniel has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood: one for her contributions to radio at 6933 Hollywood Boulevard, and one for motion pictures at 1719 Vine Street. In 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and in 2006 became the first black Oscar winner honored with a US postage stamp.

In addition to having acted in many films, McDaniel was a professional singer-songwriter, comedian, stage actress, radio performer, and television star. Hattie McDaniel was in fact the first black woman to sing on the radio in America. Over the course of her career, McDaniel appeared in over 300 films, although she received screen credits for only about 80. She gained the respect of the African American show business community with her generosity, elegance, and charm.

Hattie McDaniel was born June 10, 1895, in Wichita, Kansas, to former slaves. She was the youngest of 13 children. Her father, Henry McDaniel, fought in the Civil War with the 122nd USCT and her mother, Susan Holbert, was a singer of religious music. In 1900, the family moved to Colorado, living first in Fort Collins and then in Denver, where Hattie graduated from Denver East High School. Her brother, Sam McDaniel (1886–1962), played the butler in the 1948 Three Stooges’ short film Heavenly Daze. Another acting sibling of Hattie and Sam was actress Etta McDaniel.

In McDaniel’s time, America was segregated in virtually every respect in terms of race. In the South, blacks were barred by law from attending school with whites and subjected to segregation in all other public places Even outside the South, many restaurants and hotels refused to accept black customers. Job opportunities were limited. Custom or restrictive covenants kept blacks from living in “white” neighborhoods. Marriage between blacks and whites was illegal in most states of the United States. The United States military required blacks to serve in all-black regiments. Black Americans also faced the terrorism of lynch mobs without the assurance of federal or state protection. Indeed, in 2005, the U.S. Congress issued an apology for the federal government’s failure to enact lynching legislation to protect blacks in that era.  I will never forget the scene in the movie about Dorothy Dandridge, starring Halle Berry, where the pool at the hotel where she was staying was drained because she dipped her foot in the water.  And insult to injury, African American men were the ones cleaning the pool.  How hurtful that must have been for Dorothy.

The field of entertainment emerged as a profession in which blacks were allowed to reach white and black customers. Still, however, the success of black entertainers and their ability to rise into ownership and management was limited by racial restrictions. Often, many of the same places that allowed blacks to be on stage, did not allow them to sit in the audience as patrons.  State laws allowing discrimination and requiring segregation assured that black entertainers were not allowed the same benefits and opportunities as white ones. Black actors were cast repeatedly in menial roles and were consistently required to speak in contrived stereotypical “Negro dialects.” If black actors did not know how to speak that way, they had to learn to in order to succeed in Hollywood. Movie houses often hired white dialect coaches to teach the so-called “Negro dialect.”

I hated the way the blacks talked in movies.  It degraded them and made them seem ignorant.  And they were always bowing and shuffling and their eyes wide open as if they were having a fright.  Here are a few examples of words considered “Negro dialect”: ah for I, poe for poor, hit for it, tuh for to, wuz for was, baid for bed, daid for dead, mah for my, ovah for over, wha for where, ifn for if, fiuh or fiah for fire, yo’ for you, cot for caught, kin’ for kind, cose for ’cause, and tho’t for thought.  What?!?

I learnt that the competition to play Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939) had been almost as stiff as that for Scarlett O’Hara. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to film producer David O. Selznick to ask that her own maid, Elizabeth McDuffie, be given the part.  McDaniel did not think she would be chosen, because she was known for being a comic actress. One source claims that Clark Gable recommended the role go to McDaniel; when she went to her audition dressed in an authentic maid’s uniform, she won the part.  Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel became very good friends.

When the date of the Atlanta premiere approached, all the black actors were barred from attending and excluded from being in the souvenir program as well as southern advertising for the film. David Selznick had attempted to bring Hattie McDaniel, but MGM advised him not to because of Georgia’s segregationist laws. Clark Gable angrily threatened to boycott the Atlanta premiere unless McDaniel was allowed to attend, but McDaniel convinced him to attend anyway.  Hattie and her escort were seated at a segregated table for two, apart from her Gone with the Wind colleagues and her colleagues in the motion picture industry, a painful reminder of how far the industry and the country had yet to go in overcoming racism.

The Twelfth Academy Awards took place at the Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It was preceded by a banquet in the same room. Louella Parsons, an American gossip columnist, wrote about Oscar night, February 29, 1940:

“Hattie McDaniel earned that gold Oscar, by her fine performance of “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. If you had seen her face when she walked up to the platform and took the gold trophy, you would have had the choke in your voice that all of us had when Hattie, hair trimmed with gardenias, face alight, and dress up to the queen’s taste, accepted the honor in one of the finest speeches ever given on the Academy floor. …

Hattie did look wonderful and she was deeply humbled.  She said, “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of their awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. ”

Hattie was also known for her community service work.  During World War II. She was appointed the Chair of the “Negro Division” of the Hollywood Victory Committee, providing entertainment for soldiers stationed at military bases. (The military was segregated and black entertainers were not allowed to serve on white entertainment committees.) She asked her friend actor Leigh Whipper and other well known black entertainers to join her Negro Division Victory committee. She also put in numerous personal appearances to hospitals, threw parties, performed at United Service Organizations (USO) shows and war bond rallies, to raise funds to support the war, on behalf of the Victory Committee.  Bette Davis also performed for black regiments as the only white member of an acting troupe formed by Hattie McDaniel, that also included Lena Horne and Ethel Waters.  She was also a member of American Women’s Voluntary Services.

She joined actor Clarence Muse, one of the earliest black members of the Screen Actors Guild, for an NBC radio broadcast to raise funds for Red Cross relief programs for Americans, who had been displaced by devastating floods. She gained a reputation for generous giving, often feeding and lending money to friends and stranger alike.

Hattie was married four times.  When she was married to James Lloyd Crawford, she happily informed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in 1945 that she was pregnant. McDaniel began buying baby clothes and setting up a nursery. Her plans were shattered when the doctor informed her she had a false pregnancy; McDaniel fell into a depression. She never had any children. She divorced Crawford in 1945, after four and a half years of marriage. She said he was jealous of her career and once threatened to kill her.  Hattie befriended several of Hollywood’s most popular stars, including Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, Shirley Temple, Henry Fonda, Ronald Reagan, Olivia de Havilland and Clark Gable (as I mentioned earlier).

Hattie died at age 57 from breast cancer, in the hospital on the grounds of the Motion Picture House in Woodland Hills, on October 26, 1952. She was childless and was divorced from her fourth husband. She was survived by her brother, Sam McDaniel. Thousands of mourners turned out to remember her life and accomplishments. In her will, McDaniel wrote: “I desire a white casket and a white shroud; white gardenias in my hair and in my hands, together with a white gardenia blanket and a pillow of red roses. I also wish to be buried in the Hollywood Cemetery”.

The Hollywood Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood was the resting place of movie stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, and others. Hollywood Cemetery refused to allow her to be buried there, because it, too practiced racial segregation. It did not accept the bodies of black people. Her second choice was Rosedale Cemetery, where she lies today. 

Notes to Women celebrate and remembers this resilient woman, gifted actress and beacon of hope for other African Americans.  She left behind two legacies–her contributions to radio and the movie industry.   She was not opposed to playing menial roles.  She reportedly said,”Why should I complain about making $700 a week playing a maid? If I didn’t, I’d be making $7 a week being one.”  We thought it fitting to end Black History Month by celebrating the life and achievements of this model of off-screen courage and great, show-stealing onscreen performances.

A woman’s gifts will make room for her.

Faith is the black person’s federal reserve system.

I did my best, and God did the rest.

I don’t belong on this earth. I always feel out of place – like a visitor.

I am loathe to get married again. I’ve been married enough; I just prefer to forget it.What is the thing that Hollywood demands most? Sincerity. No place in the world will pay such a high price for this admirable trait.Hattie McDaniel

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hattie_McDanielhttp://www.imdb.com/name/nm0567408/biohttp://www.popmatters.com/tv/reviews/b/beyond-tara.htmlhttp://www.mahoganycafe.com/hattiemcdaniel.html; http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2010/01/harry_reid_could_use_a_lesson.html

Pakistan’s Senate Passes Domestic Violence Bill

I read this evening on the website for Violence is Not Our Culture about the passing of domestic violence bill in Pakistan.  VNC congratulated their partners Baidarie Sialkot and Shirkat Gah and other civil society groups and women’s human rights activists who have been campaigning over the past few years to pass this bill.

Baidarie Sialkot is a non-government and non-profit organization which was established in 1993 by the rural women of UC Roras who were keen to work for the empowerment and development of the women of the area. It carries out its operations without having religious, lingual, political and social discriminations to motivate the rural communities, particularly women, to take an active part in the social developmental process. The organization strives hard to develop women into active, productive and dynamic citizens of the country.

Shirkat Gah literally means a place of participation. It was formed as a non hierarchical collective in 1975 by a group of women with a shared perspective on women’s rights and development.

The organizations’ fundamental goal was to encourage women to play a full and equal role in society by promoting and protecting the social and economic development of women already participating in, or wanting to participate in, the national development.

The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) bill makes violence against women and children an offence carrying jail terms and fines, state media said.  It was introduced by Senator Nilofar Bakhtiar and passed unanimously by the upper house of the federal parliament, Pakistan Television reported.  It was passed unanimously in the National Assembly, the lower house in parliament almost three years ago in August 2009.  It will come into effect after it is signed into legislation by President Asif Ali Zardari.

Under this bill those found guilty of beating women or children will face a minimum six months behind bars and a fine of at least 100,000 rupees ($1,100).  In addition to protecting children and women, it provides protection to the adopted, employed and domestic associates in a household.

The law classifies domestic violence as acts of physical, sexual or mental assault, force, criminal intimidation, harassment, hurt, confinement and deprivation of economic or financial resources.   In the past if a man beat her wife or children, the police could not arrest him because it was considered a domestic affair.  Now, thanks to the passing of this bill, the police can step in and make an arrest.

Human rights groups say that Pakistani women suffer severe discrimination, domestic violence and so-called “honour” killings.  This means that a victim is murdered for allegedly bringing dishonour upon her family.  I read that in Afghanistan running away from an abusive husband or a forced marriage are considered “moral crimes”, for which women are currently imprisoned.  Rape victims are imprisoned because sex outside marriage, even when the woman is forced, is considered adultery, another “moral crime”.  I cannot believe that the woman who is abused by her husband is imprisoned.  I fail to see how rape can be classified as adultery which is consensual sex between two people outside of marriage.  Rape is not about sex.  It is a violent act.  And rape victims should be protected not treated like criminals.   It would be really great if Afghanistan were to pass a similar bill.

It is believed that the spread of Islamist fundamentalism is increasingly isolating the women in Pakistan, especially in the areas where the Taliban are.  Thankfully this bill will change things in the Pakistani women’s favor.  Men will no longer get away with their crimes.

It is truly a victory for Pakistan and especially the women and children whose rights are finally going to be protected.  This is a testimony that awareness + action = change.

Source:  http://abusehelplines.org/2012/02/21/pakistans-senate-unanimously-passes-domestic-violence-bill/

Saving Face

I was thrilled last night when I saw the documentary, Saving Face win the Oscar.  It was a proud moment for Canadian Pakistani filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy as she made history as Pakistan’s first Oscar winner.  Chinoy hopes that this Oscar win will ignite a flourishing film industry in Pakistan.

Saving Face is a documentatry about acid attacks. The film follows London-based Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr. Mohammad Jawad, as he journeys to Pakistan to perform reconstructive surgery on survivors of acid violence. Saving Face also broaches the subject of the under-reporting of acid violence due to cultural and structural inequalities towards women.  The film also features two women attacked by acid and their struggle for justice and healing. The Acid Survivors Foundation of Pakistan, which is featured in the film, had documented over 100 acid attacks a year in Pakistan but estimates far more due to lack of reporting.

Obaid-Chinoy has also stated that the film is “a positive story about Pakistan on two accounts: firstly, it portrays how a Pakistani-British doctor comes to treat them and it also discusses, in great depth, the parliament’s decision to pass a bill on acid violence”. Obaid-Chinoy has also said that the film assisted in the trial and conviction of one of the perpretrators of acid violence on a female victim.

“I am so grateful for the Academy’s recognition of this film and the issues highlighted here. No-one who sees these women could fail to be moved. Each beautiful in their own way, their lives have been destroyed, their faces and bodies disfigured, often by members of their own families,” Jawad said following the film’s success at the 84th Academy Awards.  “They are the real heroes here. They have been ostracised from society following the terrible attacks that have been inflicted upon them. I merely try to restore God’s creation, which has been destroyed by such evil acts of human beings, in the best way I know how. I hope that awareness of the cause will help to eradicate this beast of a man-made disease from society,” Jawad said.

Sharmeen Obaid was born in Karachi attended the Karachi Grammar School. She graduated from Smith College with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Government and fromStanford Uni with master’s degrees in International Policy Studies and in Communication.Obaid-Chinoy is an Emmy award winning producer and journalist.  She won an Emmy for her documentary, Pakistan: Children of the Taliban in 2010. She is also the first non-American to win the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.

Her career in documentary began when she examined the plight of Afghani refugee children in Pakistan for one of her articles. Their situation was so dire, and their stories so compelling, that Sharmeen decided to return to Pakistan and create a film about them. She petitioned Smith College and New York Times Television production division for the grants that would allow her to accomplish her goals. Intrigued by her story, both organizations gave her the funds as well as production equipment and training. She is currently a faculty member at media sciences department in SZABIST (Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and technology, Karachi). Obaid-Chinoy is also on the board member of The Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP).

Known for documentaries dealing with life in the Muslim world, Obaid became the first non-American to win the Livingston Award. Her films have aired on such networks as Channel 4,CNN, PBS, and Al-Jazeera.  She began her career with New York Times Television in 2002 where she produced Terror’s Children, a film about Afghan refugee children, which won her the Overseas Press Club Award, the American Women and Radio and Television Award, and the South Asian Journalist Association Award.  Since then, she has produced and reported on more than twelve films around the world.

Obaid produced and reported on four multi-award winning documentary films for New York Times Television. In 2003, Reinventing the Taliban was awarded the Special Jury Award at the BANFF TV festival in Canada, the CINE Golden Eagle Award, the American Women in Radio and Television award, and the Livingston Award. In 2005, her film Women of the Holy Kingdom, which provided an inside look at the women’s movement in Saudi Arabia, won the South Asian Journalist Association Award.

In 2005, Obaid began working with Channel 4 in the United Kingdom reporting on four films for their Unreported World series. Pakistan’s Double Game looked at sectarian violence in Pakistan, City of Guilt explored the Catholic Church’s pro-life movement in the Philippines, The New Apartheid looked into growing xenophobia in South Africa, and Birth of a Nationdelved into the politics of East Timor. In 2007, Obaid was named “journalist of the year” by the One World Media awards for her work in the series.

In 2007, Obaid travelled to Afghanistan and reported for Channel 4 and CNN. Her film, Afghanistan Unveiled/Lifting the Veil, focuses on stalled reconstruction and the repression of women in the country.

Acid throwing (acid attack or vitriolage) is a form of violent assault. It is defined as the act of throwing acid onto the body of a person “with the intention of injuring or disfiguring him or her out of jealousy or revenge”. Perpetrators of these attacks throw acid at their victims, usually at their faces, burning them, and damaging skin tissue, often exposing and sometimes dissolving the bones. The long term consequences of these attacks include blindness and permanent scarring of the face and body.  These attacks are most common in Cambodia, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh,Pakistan and other nearby countries. According to Taru Bahl and M.H. Syed, 80% of victims of these acid attacks are female and almost 70% are under 18 years of age.

According to New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof, acid attacks are at an all time high in Pakistan and increasing every year. The Pakistani attacks he describes are typically the work of husbands against their wives who have “dishonored them”.

Obaid-Chinoy’s win has been the cause for celebration in her home country.  Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced that Obaid-Chinoy would be receiving a civil award for her achievements on Monday, according to the Associated Press. She is the first Pakistani to win an Oscar.

She dedicated her Oscar to “all the women in Pakistan working for change.  Don’t give up on your dreams. This is for you.”

Saving Face airs March 8 on HBO Canada.

Notes to Women congratulates this remarkable woman whose passion for sharing stories of women and children and their plight has earned her the recognition she deserves.  Sharmeen, you made your country and women around the world very proud.

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saving_Face_(documentary); http://ca.news.yahoo.com/canadian-pakistani-filmmaker-nabs-oscar-documentary-short-acid-160219303.htmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharmeen_Obaid-Chinoyhttp://sharmeenobaidfilms.com/http://www.dawn.com/2012/02/27/the-victims-are-the-real-heroes.htmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acid_throwinghttp://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/pakistan/120227/saving-face-oscar-winner-sharmeen-obaid-chinoy-ce

The Stolen Cow

by ja c q u e Th e r m iL

Roseline lives in a village in northwestern Haiti. She felt rich, for she
owned three cows. But she also felt grateful to God for her wealth and had
dedicated one of her cows to God. Now the cow was about to give birth,
and Roseline would give the calf to the Lord.

One day after finishing her morning devotions, Roseline went to tend to
her cows. But her dedicated cow was missing. She walked up and down
the path, calling to the cow, but there was no response. She realized that
the cow hadn’t wandered off to find a lush stand of grass; it had been
stolen.

Roseline started out to town to report the theft to the mayor’s office.
On the way she stopped at her pastor’s home and told him that her cow
had been stolen. “I’m not afraid,” she told the pastor, “because this cow
and its calf are dedicated to God. Nothing will happen to them that God
doesn’t wish. But I pray that the thief will bring the cow back because she
belongs to God.”

The pastor smiled at Roseline’s faith and promised to pray for the cow
and its calf. Then Roseline continued on to the mayor’s office to report the
missing cow and to ask that if someone returned a cow to let her know,
for it was hers. Roseline never doubted that the cow would return home
before her calf was born.

The next day Roseline again walked down the path to the pastor’s
house. “God’s cow has come home!” she said excitedly.

“What happened?” the pastor asked, curious.

“The thief himself brought back the cow,” Roseline responded. “He told
me that every time he looked at the cow he was troubled. He sensed that
there was something about this cow, and that made him uncomfortable,
but he didn’t know what it was. Finally, he couldn’t stand it any longer
and brought the cow back to me! He even apologized for taking her.”
Then Roseline hurried on to town to report to the mayor that God had sent
her cow home safely.

Two months later, when the calf was born, Roseline gave it to God. She
cared for it until it was old enough to leave its mother, and then she sold
the calf and gave the money to the Investment offering.
A portion of Investment offerings helps to start new work and supports
work in large cities around the world. Thank you for giving your mission
and Investment offerings.

Source: The General Conference Office of Adventist Mission.
Web site: http://www.AdventistMission.org

I wanted to share this story because of this woman’s amazing faith.  She believed that no harm would come to the cow she had dedicated to God and that the thief would return her.     God rewarded her faith.  This reminded me of Abraham’s servant who prayed to God to find him a wife for his master’s son, Isaac.  He prayed that the woman would come to the well and not only would she give him a drink but also the camels.  Before he had finished praying, God answered his prayer.  Rebekah came to the well and she did exactly what the man had asked in the prayer.  There was no doubt that she was the one God had chosen for Isaac.  The servant witnessed the fruit of his faith.

I pray that we would all have the faith of Rosaline who never doubted that God would return the cow safely so that she could dedicate the calf to Him as promised.  And in the process He gave the thief a change of heart.  The man not only returned the stolen cow but he apologized to Roseline.  Only God could work such miracles.  Only He could touch the heart and bring about the fruit of repentance.

When the unexpected happens, trust God.  Remember He’s in control.

Ida B. Wells

I came across the name Ida B. Wells when I was looking for quotes for Black History Month.  I had not heard about her before.  We have something in common-journalism.  Ida was also a newspaper editor.  She was married to Ferdinand L. Barnett, a newspaper owner.  She was an early leader in the civil rights movement.  She documented lynching in the United States, showing how it was often a way to control or punish blacks who competed with whites. She was active in the women’s rights and the women’s suffrage movement, establishing several notable women’s organizations. Wells was a skilled and persuasive rhetorician, and traveled internationally on lecture tours.

Ida was born born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862, just before President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Her father was a carpenter and both he and her mother were enslaved until they were freed under the Proclamation one year after she was born.

Ida’s father James was a master at carpentry and known as a “race man”, someone who worked for the advancement of blacks. He was very interested in politics, and was a member of the Loyal League. He attended public speeches and campaigned for local black candidates, but he never ran for office. Her mother Elizabeth was a cook for the Bolling household before her death from yellow fever. She was a religious woman who was very strict with her children. Wells’ parents took their children’s education very seriously. They wanted their children to take advantage of having the opportunity to be educated and attend school.

Ida attended Shaw University (now Rust College in Holly Springs), a school for freed people but was later expelled for rebellious behavior and temper after confronting the president of the college.  While she was visiting her grandmother she learned that her hometown had suffered a yellow fever epidemic.  Tragically, at the age of 16, she lost her parents and 10 month old brother.  The 1878 epidemic swept through the South claiming many lives.

Following the funerals, friends and relatives decided that the six remaining Wells children should be sent to various foster homes. Wells resisted this solution. To keep her younger siblings together as a family, she dropped out of Rust College and found work as a teacher in a black elementary school. (The schools were racially segregated.) Her grandmother Peggy Wells, along with other friends and relatives, stayed with the children during the week while she was away teaching. Without this help, she would have not been able to keep her siblings together. She resented that white teachers were paid $80 a month in public schools when she was paid only $30 a month. This discrimination made her more interested in the politics of race and improving the education of blacks.

In 1883, Wells took three of her younger siblings to Memphis, Tennessee, to live with her aunt and to be closer to other family members. She found she could earn higher wages there as a teacher. Soon after moving, she was hired in Woodstock for the Shelby County school system.  During her summer vacations, she attended summer sessions at Fisk University, ahistorically black college in Nashville; its graduates were well respected in the black community. She also attended LeMoyne Institute. Wells held strong political opinions and provoked many people with her views on women’s rights. When she was 24, she wrote, “I will not begin at this late day by doing what my soul abhors; sugaring men, weak deceitful creatures, with flattery to retain them as escorts or to gratify a revenge.”

On May 4, 1884, a train conductor Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad ordered Wells to give up her seat and move to the smoking car, which was already crowded with other passengers. The year before, Supreme Court had struck down the federal Civil Rights Act of 1875, which banned racial discrimination in public accommodations. Several railroad companies continued legal racial segregation of their passengers, especially when traveling in the South.

Wells refused to give up her seat, 71 years before the activist Rosa Parks showed similar resistance on a bus. The conductor and two men dragged Wells out of the car. When she returned to Memphis, she hired an African-American attorney to sue the railroad. Wells became a public figure in Memphis when she wrote a newspaper article for The Living Way, a black church weekly, about her treatment on the train. When her lawyer was paid off by the railroad, she hired a white attorney. She won her case on December 24, 1884, when the local circuit court granted her a $500 settlement. The railroad company appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court’s ruling in 1887. It concluded, “We think it is evident that the purpose of the defendant in error was to harass with a view to this suit, and that her persistence was not in good faith to obtain a comfortable seat for the short ride.” Wells was ordered to pay court costs.

While she taught elementary school, Ida was offered an editorial position at for the Evening Star.  She also wrote weekly articles for The Living Way weekly newspaper under the pen name”Iola.” She gained a reputation for writing about the race issue in the United States. In 1889, she became co-owner and editor of Free Speech and Headlight, an anti-segregationist newspaper that was started by Rev R. Nightingale and was based at the Beale Street Baptist Church in Memphis. It published articles about racial injustice.

In March 1892 racial tensions were rising in Memphis and violence was becoming the norm.  Three of Ida’s friends owned a grocery store which was doing good business and was seen as competitive with a white owned grocery store across the street.  While Ida was out of town in Mississippi, a white lynch mob invaded her friends’ store.  During the altercation, three white men were shot and injured. Ida’s friends, Moss, McDowell, and Stewart were arrested and jailed. A large lynch mob stormed the jail cells and killed the three men.

After the lynching of her friends, Wells wrote in Free Speech and Headlight, urging blacks to leave Memphis:

There is, therefore, only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.

Wells emphasized the public spectacle of the lynching.  Over 6,000 blacks did leave; others organized boycotts of white-owned businesses. After being threatened with violence, Wells bought a pistol. She later wrote, “They had made me an exile and threatened my life for hinting at the truth.”

The murders of her friends drove Ida to research and document lynchings and their causes. She began investigative journalism, looking at the charges given for the murders. She officially started her anti-lynching campaign. She spoke on the issue at various black women’s clubs, and raised more than $500 to investigate lynchings and publish her results. Wells found that blacks were lynched for such reasons as failing to pay debts, not appearing to give way to whites, competing with whites economically, being drunk in public. She published her findings in a pamphlet entitled “Southern Horrors: Lynch Laws in All Its Phases”.

She wrote an article that suggested that, unlike the myth that white women were sexually at risk of attacks by black men, most liaisons between black men and white women were consensual. While she was away in Philadelphia, a mob destroyed the offices of the Free Speech and Headlight on May 27, 1892 in retaliation for her controversial articles, three months after her three friends were lynched.

Ida spoke to groups in New York which included many leading African American women. She was forced to move from Memphis to Chicago because of death threats but she continued to wage her anti-lynching campaign and to write columns attacking Southern injustices.  Her articles were published in The New York Age newspaper.  Her writings continued to investigate the incidents that were referred to as causes for lynching black men.  Along with Frederick Douglass and other black leaders, Ida organized a black boycott of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, for its failure to collaborate with the black community on exhibits representing African-American life.

Ida met her husband when she was contemplating filing a libel suit against two black Memphis attorneys.  The attorney she turned to for help was deeply in debt and could not afford to help but he asked his friend Ferdinand L. Barnett if he could. Barnett accepted the pro bono job. Born in Alabama, Barnett had become the editor of the Chicago Conservator in 1878. He was an assistant state attorney for 14 years.  Ida and Ferdinand married in 1895.  She set an early precedent as being one of the first married American women keep her own last name along with her husband’s.  The couple had four children.  Ida later described in her autobiography how difficult it was for her to split her time between her family and her work.  She continued to work after the birth of her first child, traveling and bringing the infant Charles with her. Although she tried to balance her worlds, she could not be as active in her work.  After having her second child, Ida stepped out of her touring and public life for a time, as she could no longer balance her job with her family.

Although she struggled to juggle family and work, Ida was still a fierce campaigner in the anti-lynching circle.  Ida B. Wells took two tours to Europe on her campaign for justice, the first in 1893 and the second in 1894. While she was in Europe she spent her time in both Scotland and England, where she gave many speeches and newspaper interviews.In 1892 she published a pamphlet titled Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, and A Red Record, 1892–1894, which documented research on a lynching. Having examined many accounts of lynching based on alleged “rape of white women,” she concluded that Southerners concocted rape as an excuse to hide their real reason for lynchings: black economic progress, which threatened not only white Southerners’ pocketbooks, but also their ideas about black inferiority.

The lesson this teaches and which every Afro-American should ponder well, is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give. When the white man who is always the aggressor knows he runs as great a risk of biting the dust every time his Afro-American victim does, he will have greater respect for Afro-American life. The more the Afro-American yields and cringes and begs, the more he has to do so, the more he is insulted, outraged and lynched.

Notes to Women salutes this tenacious woman who used their journalistic writing to condemn lynching.  Her life reveals a tenacity to push ahead despite every obstacle- to promote an idea and use every possible resource at ones disposal. Wells used her position as a teacher, a community member, a political activist, a mother, an editor, and an ordinary citizen to disseminate her rhetorical work. Her grandchildren have established a museum, a scholarship, a yearly birthday celebration, and a website to continue her extraordinary and historically remarkable work.Her life is the subject of a widely performed musical drama, which debuted in 2006, by Tazewell Thompson, Constant Star.  The play sums her up:

…A woman born in slavery, she would grow to become one of the great pioneer activists of the Civil Rights movement. A precursor of Rosa Parks, she was a suffragist,newspaper editor and publisher, investigative journalist, co-founder of the NAACP, political candidate, mother, wife, and the single most powerful leader in the anti-lynching campaign in America. A dynamic, controversial, temperamental, uncompromising race woman, she broke bread and crossed swords with some of the movers and shakers of her time: Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Frances Willard, and President McKinley. By any fair assessment, she was a seminal figure in Post-Reconstruction America.

We thank her for introducing us to investigative journalism and for showing us that the pen is mightier than the sword.

If this work can contribute in any way toward proving this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service.

 

Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.

 

What becomes a crime deserving capital punishment when the tables are turned is a matter of small moment when the negro woman is the accusing party.

 

Ida B. Wells

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ida_B._Wells; http://www.idabwells.org/

Whitney Houston

I was shocked and sad when I heard that Whitney Houston was dead.  She was only 48 years old–just a few years older than me.  As I watched coverage on CNN and saw clips of her video The Greatest Love of All my heartfelt condolences went out to her mother Cissy Houston who was featured in the video.  In the scene where mother and daughter hugged, I thought to myself, little did Cissy know that she would one day be burying her beautiful daughter. 

Whitney was blessed with an amazing voice.  I couldn’t believe that such a powerful came from such a slender person.  She could belt out notes that no one could.  She was in a class all by herself.  The first time I heard her sing was I believe the song she did with Teddy Prendergast entitled “Hold Me” which appeared on his album, Love Language. The single was released in 1984 and gave Houston her first taste of success, becoming a Top 5 R&B hit. It would also appear on her debut album in 1985. 

Whitney was a model.  She appeared in Seventeen and became one of the first women of color to grace the cover of the magazine.  She was also featured in layouts in the pages of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Young Miss, and appeared in a Canada Dry soft drink TV commercial.   Her striking looks and girl-next-door charm made her one of the most sought after teen models of that time.

Whitney was destined to be a great singer.  I read on Wikipedia that she was the only artist to chart seven consecutive No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits (“Saving All My Love for You”, “How Will I Know”, “Greatest Love of All”, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)”, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, “So Emotional” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”). She is the second artist behind Elton John and the only female artist to have two number-one Billboard 200 Album awards (formerly “Top Pop Album”) on the Billboard magazine year-end charts.

Houston’s 1985 debut album Whitney Houston became the best-selling debut album by a female act at the time of its release. The album was named Rolling Stone‘s best album of 1986, and was ranked at number 254 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Her second studio album Whitney (1987) became the first album by a female artist to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Houston’s crossover appeal on the popular music charts as well as her prominence on MTV, starting with her video for “How Will I Know”, influenced several African-American female artists to follow in her footsteps.

She crossed over from singing to acting.  Her first movie was “The Bodyguard” with Kevin Costner.  She looked stunning in the movie.  She helped to make the movie a blockbuster with the hit theme song, “I Will Always Love You.”  I read that the movie was originally supposed to feature Diana Ross and Steve McQueen but was scrapped because it was too controversial.  Kevin Costner based his portrayal of his character on Steve McQueen and even got the actor’s trademark haircut.  Whitney starred in and contributed to the soundtracs of other notable movies such as  Waiting to Exhale (1995) and The Preacher’s Wife (1996).  The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack became the best-selling gospel album in history.

It was revealed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that in the mid-1990’s she became a “heavy” user of marijuana and cocaine. By the 2000s she was struggling; her voice grew smaller, scratchier and less secure, and her performances grew erratic.  It seemed as if she had made a comeback.  At the BET Honors Award show in 2010, she was vibrant and she thanked her fans for their prayers and support as she accepted her award.  She acknowledged her mother Cissy who was in tears.  It was a touching moment.  Two years later Whitney died on the night before the Grammys.  Jennifer Hudson paid her a fitting tribute at the show.  Whitney was also celebrated at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy’s party.

Whitney as a woman of action.  She was a supporter of Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement. During her modeling days, the singer refused to work with any agencies who did business with the then-apartheid South Africa.  In 1989, she formed The Whitney Houston Foundation For Children, a non-profit organization that has raised funds for the needs of children around the world. The organization cares for homelessness, children with cancer or AIDS, and other issues of self-empowerment. In 1990, she was the spokesperson for a youth leadership conference hosted in Washington DC. She had a private audience with President George HW Bush in the Oval office to discuss the associated challenges.  Charities Whitney supported are: 

When America was entangled in the Persian Gulf War, Whitney performed “The Star Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV on January 27, 1991.  Due to overwhelming response to her rendition, it was released as a commercial single and video of her performance, and reached the Top 20 on the US Hot 100, making her the only act to turn the national anthem into a pop hit of that magnitude.  Whitney donated all her share of the proceeds to the American Red Cross Gulf Crisis Fund. As a result, the singer was named to the Red Cross Board of Governors.  Her rendition was considered the benchmark for singers and critically acclaimed. Rolling Stone commented that “her singing stirs such strong patriotism. Unforgettable”, and the performance ranked No. 1 on the 25 most memorable music moments in NFL history list.  Following the attacks on 9/11, it was released again by Arista Records, all profits going towards the firefighters and victims of the attacks.

Later in 1991, Whitney put together her Welcome Home Heroes concert with HBO for the soldiers fighting in the Persian Gulf War and their families. The free concert took place at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia in front of 3,500 servicemen and women. HBO descrambled the concert so that it was free for everyone to watch. Houston’s concert gave HBO its highest ratings ever.

She was a woman of many accomplishments.  Three of her singles, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, “So Emotional”, and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” all peaked at number one on the US Hot 100 chart, which gave her a total of seven consecutive number one hits, breaking the record of six previously shared by The Beatles and The Bee Gees.  Houston became the first female artist to generate four number-one singles from one album. Whitney has been certified 9× Platinum in the US for shipments of over 9 million copies, and has sold a total of 20 million copies worldwide.  The success of the tours during 1986–87 and her two studio albums ranked Houston No. 8 for the highest earning entertainers list according to Forbes magazine.  She was the highest earning African-American woman overall and the third highest entertainer after Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy.  With her world tour continuing overseas, Houston was still one of the top 20 highest earning entertainers for 1987–88 according to Forbes magazine.

What a remarkable woman Whitney Houston was.   What a loss of a great icon who captivated many with her beauty and voice.  She will be greatly missed.  Notes to Women salutes her and our thoughts and prayers are with her family, especially Bobbi Kristina Brown, Whitney’s only child.  The 18 year old was recently released from the hospital after she was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Sunday morning. According to reports, she was being treated for stress and was taken out of the Beverly Hilton on a stretcher at around 10:30 a.m. “Bobbi was always by [Whitney’s] side in everything she did,” a source told US weekly. 

Bobbi and her mother were extremely close.  Journalist Jawn Murray who interviewed Whitney numerous times over the years, told Fox News:  “They were amazingly close…they had a relationship that really resembled the relationship that Whitney Houston had with her own mother, Cissy Houston,” Murray said. “Whitney loved her daughter. Bobbi Kristina was her only child and her pride and joy. Because of that, she treasured her.”  Apparently she shared some very personal photos of her and her mother on Twitter and tweeted this heartwrenching message to her Twitter followers:  “This would be MYWORLD. I love my mommmmy, more then you’ll ever imagine.”  Our hearts and prayers go out to this young woman who has suffered such a tragic loss.

God gave me a voice to sing with, and when you have that, what other gimmick is there?
 
I finally faced the fact that it isn’t a crime not having friends. Being alone means you have fewer problems.
 
I like being a woman, even in a man’s world. After all, men can’t wear dresses, but we can wear the pants.
 
My mother taught me that when you stand in the truth and someone tells a lie about you, don’t fight it.
 

PHILLIS WHEATLEY

Hailed as America’s first black poet, Phillis Wheatley, was kidnapped from her home in Senegal, Africa and sold into slavery at the age of seven.  By the grace of God, she was bought by John and Susannah Wheatley of Boston, a couple who accepted her as part of the family soon after and was she raised with their two children.  

Due to poor health and obvious intelligence, and Susannah Wheatley’s fondness for her, Phillis was never trained as a domestic; instead she was encouraged by the Wheatleys to study theology and the English, Latin and Greek classics. She published her first poem in 1767.  Six years later John Wheatley emancipated her.  She was the first black American to have her poems published. 

On Being Brought From Africa To America

A poem by Phillis Wheatly

‘Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land,
Taught my beknighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Savior too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their color is a diabolic dye.”
Remember Christians; Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

Sources:  Earlyamerica.com; PBS.org

Phillis’s legacy lives on and her statue in Boston is a testimony that with God nothing is impossible.  Through His providence, Phillis achieved more than any slave could ever imagine.  He blessed her with wisdom and understanding and a talent that brought her recognition.  Today we can read her poems and reflect on the woman who penned the believed that it was mercy that brought her from her home to a strange land.  There she found God and her Savior.

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